A new bill is making its way through the Vermont Senate. If passed, it will provide investigators the tools needed to bypass powers of attorney when it’s believed the ones named in the legal documents are the ones abusing a senior’s trust.
Those Who Have Power of Attorney in Essex Junction
As it stands now, the law provides deep protections for anyone with a power of attorney. Those who have it and who are suspected of elder abuse can refuse to turn over banking or other records. Even the elderly person can’t override the power of attorney he put into place. They cannot grant investigators with Adult Protective Services needed access to investigate suspected abuses of power.
Barbara Prine, a lawyer with Vermont Legal Aid’s Senior Law Project explained, “Unfortunately there are cases of drug diversion or financial exploitation where this becomes a problem. There are situations where someone is taking grandma’s check book and signing her name, or a caretaker is taking the pain meds of a senior with diminished capacity.”
She continued, “It can be hard to prove wrongdoing in these cases, or even launch an investigation without access to medical and financial records.”
The legislation, Senate Health and Welfare Committee, S.23, would allow investigators to subpoena relevant documents when the person suspected of exploiting a senior also has power-of-attorney. The vote was to happen in mid-March; however, one attorney who is also a co-author of the bill was in an accident on her way to the hearings. It’s expected the vote will happen next week.
While efforts of a complete and through law are being made, there are provisions that still need fine-tuning. One provision would protect a senior’s right to deny access to records when they have capacity, as well as a section granting immunity to the parties who turn over the subpoenaed records still need work.
The immunity section would protect anyone turning over the records from being sued by the party who holds power of attorney. That could be banks, hospitals or pharmacists, among others.
It should be noted, too, that the bill has support from the Vermont Department of Disabilities Aging and Independent Living and advocates for the elderly, especially since the bill has been changed to include protections for those who turn over certain documents.
One look at the drug abuse statistics tells the tale. The law is designed to protect seniors from both financial and drug theft, but looking at the statistics for just illicit drug use paints a dim picture for Vermont’s elderly. According to the DEA:
More people were prosecuted in federal court in Vermont in 2011 for illicit trafficking in oxycodone and other prescription opiates than for any other drug, including marijuana, heroin and cocaine. Many of those drugs were stolen from elderly family members.
Vermont ranks second in the country, behind only Maine, in per-capita admissions for treatment for addiction to prescription opiates. The number of Vermonters seeking treatment for opiate addiction in 2010 was up 21 percent from 2008 and up 300 percent from 2005.
This bill, if it’s passed into law, may not greatly affect these numbers, but it will put into place strong safety mechanisms for the state’s senior citizens and elderly who are trapped in a power of attorney and nowhere to turn to rescind it.
Have questions about your powers of attorney? Want more information on how they can protect you? Give us a call today to learn more about these financial tools and how they can protect you and your assets.